Passive Fathers and the Salem Witch Trials

We do well to remember the consequences of passive fatherhood. These consequences can be illustrated by the tragic situation in 1692 where the backbiting and talebearing of eight young girls between the ages of 7 and 16 brought accusations against 120 people for witchcraft. The evil speaking, lies, and suspicion fostered in homes caused 19 people to be hanged or pressed to death. Two dogs were also hanged because the children said the dogs gave them the evil eye. Of those executed, ten were leading Christian women in Salem. The first one to be hanged was Rebecca Nurse; she was widely known as one of the town’s most dedicated prayer warriors. People today hold up this incident as an example of the foisting of Puritan values and biblical law on society. But it was exactly the opposite. Rather it was an example of pseudo-Christianity disguised in people who were upstanding citizens, went to church, and quoted the Bible, but who were filled with bitterness.

Here are five forces that created the crisis. Most of them are related to faulty fatherhood practices in dealing with sin in the home. Tragically, the failure of these fathers spilled over to defile the church and the community.

First, fathers allowed destructive influences into their homes. Pastor Samuel Parris allowed a Caribbean slave girl named Tituba to influence his daughter and other girls in the community with her fortunetelling, séances, and other activities. It was these girls who became the accusers of those who were put to death.

Second, fathers refused to discipline their children for unloving hearts and behavior. When Giles Corrie, a man in the community, stood up in the trial and said in effect, “I can solve this in a few minutes… these girls need to be spanked by their fathers.” The girls accused him of witchcraft, and he was convicted and pressed to death. The fathers of these girls were not managing their households well. On the contrary, their daughters were controlling their households. These fathers were not exercising good government in their houses by allowing their children to dishonor godly people in the community.

Third, fathers allowed gossip in their homes about members of the community. Earlier the town had divided into two factions based on a business disagreement. Interestingly enough, ALL of the people accused were from the other side. This resulted in court proceedings that were based, not on justice, but on people picking up other people’s offenses. Add this to the witches brew of “spectral evidence” and other unjust practices and you get a scar on a community that never fully heals.

Fourth, Church government was out of control. This fact is seen in the conduct of Reverend Samuel Perris who refused to use biblical (Matthew 18) procedure to confront individuals involved with gossip in the church. The home profoundly affects the church because they are intertwined. This is why the math goes like this: weak homes equal weak churches. It can also be demonstrated that pastor Parris was personally unqualified for his position on the basis of Scripture because he did not manage his household well and his children were not faithful. Further Mr. Parris, was involved in several disputes over his salary, his supply of firewood, and the ownership of his house, among other things. Many believe that his bitterness over his salary as pastor and his taking sides in a town dispute were both significant sources of the problem in Salem.

Fifth, there was judicial excess in the rejection of biblical laws regarding evidence. The admission of spectral evidence in the courtroom (testifying that so and so’s ghost appeared and tormented someone) was a violation of biblical law. This unlawful procedure was the sole evidence for many of the convictions.

In desperation, the town authorities called upon the Puritan pastor, Increase Mather, and his son Cotton, to help them. These two men spoke out strongly against the trials and called for the implementation of the biblical principle that no one can be convicted of a crime except on the testimony of two or three witnesses. The Mathers brought sanity to the situation, the trials ended, and the accused were released from prison. The Reverend Samuel Parris was driven from the village.

Five years later, Jan 15, 1697, there was repentance in the legislature over the sin committed in these trials, and they called for a day of fasting and humiliation. Repentance for the gossip finally came in 1740, and there was a revival that swept New England – the Great Awakening began with repentance of the people for the Salem Witch Trials. The people repented of the gossip in the homes and in the public meetings, and of lack of love in the community that led to the destruction of many of God’s people. The judge for the trials acknowledged his “blame and shame.”

The legacy of fathers who are either unaware or unconcerned about the particular ways evil is infiltrating their homes is tragic. Families are particularly vulnerable in this internet age.

But we can be encouraged by Job. Job protected his family. He was vigilant. He determined the spiritual condition of his children. He kept his eye on sin in his family lest his children be destroyed by its allurements. Job dealt with sin in his family – daily.

“And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did regularly.” Job 1:4-5

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